JULIAN VOTES TO ABOLISH THE JULIAN CUYAMACA FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT

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By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor

Miriam Raftery, Editor, contributed to this report

Update March 27, 2019: The margin has narrowed slightly but Measure A still leads by 114 votes and a 7.96% margin: yes 53.98%, no 46.02%

March 19, 2019 (Julian) – The County’s last all-volunteer fire department may soon be history. With 1,294 ballots counted tonight, Measure A is passing with 55.56%, the Registrar of Voters reports.

The measure would affirm a decision made last September by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to abolish the 35-year-old Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District. Fire and ambulance services would be shifted entirely to the County Fire Authority, under the direction of Cal-Fire.

The Registrar’s office will continue to accept ballots until Friday, if postmarked by today. It is unclear how many ballots mailed out have not yet been returned, or whether there could be enough to make up the 145-vote gap (719 to 575).

Cal-Fire firefighters’ union local #2881 posted on Facebook tonight, “Thank you to the Citizens of Julian and Cuyamaca for the opportunity to serve them.” (photo, left)

For backers of the JCFPD who have fought hard to keep their volunteer firefighters, however, the outcome sparked strong emotions.

 “It doesn’t look very good right now,” Robert Menghini, president of the volunteer fire protection district. told ECM, adding, “As far as I’m concerned, this was an illegal election.”

Although he did not reveal specific actions the district may take to challenge the election in court, Menghini said that the district will continue to fight any attempts to abolish the district by the County of San Diego.

Tuesday’s election was mandated by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors last December, when LAFCO received enough “protest letters” from local residents to overturn an earlier decision a month earlier to dissolve the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District.

The ball towards the vote started to roll last spring when the former JCFPD board after the board voted three-to-one to file a dissolution application with the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). The board did so only after the County informed the board that it would halt 100% of county funding for the JCFPD if it remained a volunteer district.

None of the board members who voted for dissolution are currently on the board of directors.

At the time of the board’s vote, directors considered the district’s finances and the majority determined that the district did not have the resources to continue. Aida Tucker, JCFPD’s former vice-president, told KPBS TV, "I looked at the budget and saw that there’s no way we were going to be able to make it in the next couple years. We probably would be broke by then without any extra help, so thinking about the community and what they deserve, I decided to go ahead and vote to dissolve the district.”

Because of alleged staffing and response problems, the JCFPD asked the San Diego County Fire Authority for assistance in 2015. At the time, it entered into a two-year contract and the county gave the area extra resources and $105,000 in subsidies and services. However, when the contract expired in Oct. 2017, the board voted to stay independent, which resulted in a good portion of the extra County of San Diego funding disappearing. Because of that, Tucker said it quickly became clear that Julian wouldn't be able to fund a 24/7 response team on its own.

Following resignation of multiple board members, an election last November gave control of the board back to supporters of keeping the district independent. Fundraising efforts have been underway amid a contentious election in which both sides argued that Julian would be safer if their side prevailed. 

The stakes are high, with lives and property protection on the line.

Passage of Measure A means Cal-Fire will not shut down two stations in the winter months. Ambulance service will continue to be provided by the CFA, an important point since loss of a county ambulance would have forced the JCFPD to seek a contract with another ambulance provider, if one could be procured. But there will no longer be local volunteers to respond to calls if Cal-Fire or a county ambulance is not available.

Some JCFPD supporters have voiced concerns over the potential for future cuts or dark days at stations, as well as delayed responses to local emergencies if Cal Fire crews are dispatched to battle wildfire elsewhere.  Instead of 60 volunteers, with Cal-Fire's aid on wildfires, Julian will now be reliant 100% on Cal-Fire, which JCFD backers say means far fewer firefighters on hand to respond to structure fires.

JCFPD Chief Mike Van Bibber recently recruited dozens of new recruits, 18 of whom recently graduated from JCFPD's training activity to become volunteer firefighters (photo, right).

But  those positions will be extinguished if tonight’s vote counts holds, unless a court intervenes.

Follow Paul Kruze on Twitter and Facebook: @PaulKruzeNews

 

 

Comments

CERT misinformation

The SDCFA is an active supporter of CERT in the Real East County. Statements that they will not support Julian CERT are based on what uninformed people believe not the past performance of SDCFA. Julian CERT has been in fighting between 2 factions for years. The fire district did NOTHING to resolve the issue. There board of directors even made it worse. Based on our experience of over 4 years now, when the dust settles, you will have better fire protection, better medic response, and a supported CERT team. Unless the community doesn't.

A LOSS THAT WILL BE FELT

These are my thoughts: 1. Really disappointed in the whole process. Many people voted without really understanding that "yes" meant dissolution. 2. Really angry with how CalFire Union put out propaganda that was inaccurate or misleading. 3. Very angry at how Chief Meecham threatened Santa Ysabel to stay out out of the process and not provide auto aid to JCFPD. I have heard rumor that the County pressured the Santa Ysabel Dispensary by threatening to withhold license to sell off the res. No corroboration on that. 4. JCFPD just graduated 18 new recruits and has been staffing at least 3 per day at the Julian station. These new recruits need experience before they can get their FFI credential and get a paid job. No one else in the County does this. These 16 men and 2 women are going to be left high and dry, or have to go out of the County and pay to get their credentials. Sad. 5. JCFPD has over 50 more applicants for the Academy and they will get nothing. CalFire and County do not do this. There is no other volunteer department left. 6. People were elated that the County/CalFire gave Julian a single paramedic on the SDCFA engine. That is one engine, one paramedic and 2 FFs on the engine. That is what will replace the entire JCFPD fire department. Nuts! 7. The engines that SDCFA purchased (in bulk) are all long wheel base and 2WD. They cannot handle the steep and narrow driveways and they cannot operate on the ice and snow. They got stuck or were grounded when the weather was bad. They cannot turn around in some of the areas. So, the paramedic cannot even get to the patient. 8. The CalFire staff are rotated constantly. They do not know the area or the terrain. On many occasions they could not find the home of an EMS call and they canceled without even showing up. JCFPD volunteers know the neighborhoods and know residents with chronic problems. This will become a moot point when EMS replaces the Julian Ambulance with Mercy or AMR, because those drivers will have the same problem as CalFire. At least with JCFPD responding along with the ambulance, they can help direct and locate the patient. 9. JCFPD is the only government agency in Julian and, as such, is the glue that holds the community together. JCFPD supports many local philanthropic groups (Fire Explorers, Christmas toys for underserved, Blessing Box, Jacket Angels) and social events such as open house, pancake breakfast and spaghetti dinners. Cal Fire will do none of these things and it is a loss to the community. 10. Cal Fire fought for this to gain the jobs. The cost of this service to the County will escalate (like it has in Riverside) and the County will have to find a way to pay. Undoubtedly, there will be a "fire service fee" and it will be imposed without voter approval. The California Legislature imposed the fire fee on the back county residents (now suspended), San Bernardino imposed one (in litigation I believe), and San Diego is going to have to do something. 11. CalFire does not approve of volunteer firefighters, so they will NEVER allow civilian volunteers (like CERT) to assist them. 11. Once gone, Julian will never again have its own fire department. Local control will be gone. If there is a wild fire, the County and CalFire will deploy assets to the more populous areas and leave Julian unprotected, like it did in the Cedar Fire. Bummer! Angry! Sad! Dr. Patricia Landis

Reality lands hard, but the community can still protect itself

It is a hard time for so many of the people of Julian who have given so much to their community. So many of the supporters of the JCFPD were here in 2003. How could they not have wanted to keep an active hand in protecting everything they love? But the realities are stark, the economies of scale really are such that a regional firefighting force will always cost the taxpayers of Julian less in taxes. (I will not spark any discussion of quality of that service here, other than to say both sides had arguments to make which were heard by the voters.) The very good news is that Julian has a nationally recognized CERT org which, for people who continue to believe in volunteerism and service to their community, should become the nexus of service for those who want to continue to protect Julian from disaster. Brett Stalbaum, Shelter Valley

Thank you for sharing the CERT info.

I am saddened at the thought of 60 people who love serving their community being left without a way to help with emergency protection.  Regardless of how one voted on the ballot measure, it would seem a waste to have these dedicated folks left with no way to continue to volunteer together for the betterment of Julian. I hope there will be a way for the dedicated JCFPD firefighters and paramedics to be valued and respected, and continue to have some way to serve the Julian area.